Isaac the Syrian on the Non-Permanence of Hell  

Posted by Joe Rawls

St Isaac the Syrian, also known as Isaac of Nineveh, lived during the seventh century.  He was born in the Persian Gulf in the vicinity of Qatar.  At an early age he and his brother entered a monastery affiliated with the Assyrian Church of the East, more commonly (and inaccurately) known as the Nestorian Church.  His monastic piety drew the attention of his ecclesiastical superiors, and he was consecrated bishop of Nineveh.  After only five months he resigned his see and devoted himself to a rigorous anchoritic life in the wilderness.  It was there that he produced the bulk of his ascetical writings.  Towards the end of his life, worn out and nearly blind, he returned to cenobitic life.

Although Isaac belonged to the non-Chalcedonian Church of the East, his writings--originally in Syriac--deal almost exclusively with prayer and other ascetical matters and avoid divisive Christological issues.  He has  therefore been highly regarded--and honored as a saint--by the Orthodox, Monophysite, and Roman Catholic churches.  A distinctive feature of his writings are his notions of hell and eternal punishment.  Basically, for him hell exists but is not forever; it is God's version of "tough love", a necessary stage of purification on the way to resurrection and eternal life.  God's love for all creatures is so great that even demons can be saved eventually.  A good discussion of Isaac's view of salvation contains lengthy quotes from his writings which are excerpted below.


For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings...Rather, He acts towards us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief...

...with Him it is not a matter of retribution, but He is always looking beyond to the advantage that will come from His dealing with humanity.  And one such thing is this matter of Gehenna.

It is not the way of the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction in punishment for things of which He knew even before they were fashioned, aware how they would turn out when He created them--and whom nonetheless He created.

I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love.  For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love?  I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment...Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna:  bitter regret.

...The wicked, who all their life have turned aside to evil deeds, after they have been set in order in their minds by punishments and the fear of them, choose the good, having come to learn how much they have sinned...and so eventually they are held worthy of the felicity of divine munificence.  For Christ would never have said "Until you pay the last farthing" unless it had been possible for us to be freed from our sins once we had recompensed for them through punishments.

Julian of Norwich as Anchoress  

Posted by Joe Rawls

  Julian (ca 1342-1416) is of course best known as a spiritual writer, but the actual lifestyle of an anchoress is seldom discussed.  A good source of information is this article.  It's important to note that an anchoress was not the same as a hermit, and that Julian's living space or "anchorage", despite its rather severe physical limitations, in reality allowed her a good deal of direct interaction with other people, many of whom received spiritual direction from her.  Some of the procedures involved in becoming an anchoress are excerpted below.


The "Rule of Life" [of an anchoress] was known as the "Ancrene Wisse".  [It] stated that an anchoress was enclosed under a church like an anchor under the side of a ship...The Rule decreed that: 
*  The cell, or anchorhold, of an anchoress should have three windows...
*  One window was to open into the church so that the anchoress could receive communion and follow the church services.  This window was called a "Squint".
*  The second window was to allow the anchoress to be in contact with her assistant.  Food would be passed through this window and refuse taken out.
*  The third window allowed people to come and seek her wisdom, advice, and prayers.
An anchorage also contained a private altar, a bed, and a crucifix.

[Role of the bishop]
*  The personal credentials of the would-be anchoress were checked...
*  The bishop then determined if there was adequate financial support...
*  He then determined a suitable location for the anchorage.
*  He then performed (or ordered performed) the ceremony or rite of enclosure.
*  He then agreed to oversee the well-being and support of the anchoress.

[Rite of enclosure]
*  The...anchoress should fast and make confession.
*  Keeping vigil throughout the preceding night.
*  Attend Mass...
*...a procession of the congregation would include chanting and the anchoress would carry a lighted taper.
*  Sometimes her grave would be made ready...and kept open in the cell as a "momento mori"...
*  Prayers would be said and the door to the...anchorage would be locked.  In some instances there was no door to the anchorage--the anchoress would be walled up.